photo & text by nacrowe
the BEASTIE BOYS' fourth record ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL, 1994) was a bit of an ARTISTIC and personal WATERSHED moment for the group as it showcased a newfound capacity for individual EXPRESSION unheard of on previous releases. when the group released LICENSED TO ILL (review linked HERE) some eight years before in 1986, HIP HOP was in its infancy and the three members were still in their early twenties. most of that record was created as an inside joke with SNARKY asides meant to lampoon types of people they grew up with and saw around them in NYC. even the tour with its SOPHOMORIC stage props and inflatable phalluses was meant as a joke rather than some huge political statement. but over time they came to understand that their crowd wasnt in on that joke and perception was becoming reality. if you act like a dumbass with CHAUVINIST lyrics ("BRASS MONKEY" especially), then people are going to assume you are a dumb MISOGYNIST.
what is so revolutionary about ILL COMMUNICATION is how the band owns their past mistakes and moves forward with GRACE and CONTRITION, something that is utterly unheard of before or since in the often crudely anti-female world of HIP HOP. right from the get-go on opening track "SURE SHOT," ADAM YAUCH memorably quips that "i want to say a little something that's long overdue / the disrespect to women has got to be through / to all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / i want to offer my love and respect to the end," which is a completely TRANSFORMATIVE statement that altered their public persona for the rest of their career. this new understanding of the weight of their actions and the influence it had on their audience defined what causes (MILAREPA FUND, ASPCA, TIBET HOUSE US, FOOD BANK FOR NEW YORK CITY, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY, LUNCHBOX FUND, RATIONAL ANIMAL) and events (TIBETAN FREEDOM CONCERTS) they promoted and associated themselves with from here on out. in essence they transitioned to the role of engaged PROGRESSIVE activists. this legacy continues to this day as TRUMP supporters during the height of MAGA-dom in 2016 decided to use swastikas to desecrate a BROOKLYN park named in YAUCH's honor in his old neighborhood.
previous to the recording of ILL COMMUNICATION, YAUCH became a practicing BUDDHIST chose to make this new found perspective explicit on the upcoming album. famously all three members of the BEASTIE BOYS were raised JEWISH and it really says something about AD ROCK and MIKE D to embrace their friend and colleague at this moment. from what ive read and heard in interviews, their response was that of course their friend had found this new thing he felt passionately about and wanted to share and for them that was enough. they loved and supported their friend and in the end became ENRICHED with an education about BUDDHIST precepts, history and culture. this transformation can be best heard explicitly on the track (my favorite) "BODHISATTVA VOW." for the uninitiated, in the MAHAYANA BUDDHIST tradition one who attains enlightenment has the opportunity to avoid the cycle of rebirth as they have already attained a state of karmic purity. the bodhisattva vow is that they will voluntarily jump back into rebirth to assist all other sentient being in reaching that state first before they themselves depart. its a vow of complete SELFLESSNESS and service to all others before the self in the most profound manner possible. given this perspective, the ALEX GREY artwork GAIA prominently displayed in the middle of the liner notes furthers this profound sentiment of the INTERDEPENDENCE of humanity with the natural order. it really is quite the TRANSITIONAL record.
in addition to "SURE SHOT" and "BODHISATTVA VOW" other NOTABLE tracks include "ROOT DOWN," "SABOTAGE" and "GET IT TOGETHER." it would be criminal negligence to no mention that this is the second of three records co-produced by MARIO CALDATO JR, the other two being CHECK YOUR HEAD (CAPITOL, 1992) and HELLO NASTY (CAPITOL, 1992). as a TALENTED multi-instrumentalist and composer, his production duties were INVALUABLE to not just the SEAMLESS nature of these recordings (as such were often SAMPLE-HEAVY of varying quality source material), but to EMPOWERMENT of the group itself. often each member would record at home to their own devices that would be compiled and worked over by CALDATO, essentially streamlining the workflow process. i think that this one key reason that the album is such an ECLECTIC affair.
speaking for myself, ILL COMMUNICATION is the definitive BEASTIE BOYS record as it showcased a VARIED sonic aesthetic and MATURE, INCLUSIVE worldview that informed the second half of their career and ultimately their legacy as a group. one of my favorite HIP HOP records ever and most definitely required listening for anyone interested in anything from EAST COAST HIP HOP to ALTERNATIVE ROCK and beyond.
RIP ADAM YAUCH.